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Mine dust and heavy metals among worries as Butte aims for health study

2012-05-20T00:00:00Z Mine dust and heavy metals among worries as Butte aims for health studyBy Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard

Butte residents want health professionals to look at the effects of dust from the Montana Resources open pit mine, heavy metals and other factors that could cause health problems.

Those are among the comments the county health department fielded in two sessions this week to get ideas into what upcoming studies should include.

Terri Hocking, county health director, said their aim is to apply the ideas to a plan to make Butte healthier. To do that, she said they need sound studies.

“My big concern is that somewhere, in baby steps, we do something to address health concerns in the community,” she said. “We want the studies to be as authentic and verifiable as possible.”

The attention on public health in Butte has been raised in recent months by a report from Stacie Barry, an employee at the National Center for Appropriate Technology. She completed a mortality study of Butte residents as part of her doctorate dissertation from the University of Montana.

Barry found higher mortality rates for cancer and other diseases in Butte over more than two decades of looking at death records. She also was contracted by the county health department to write a report and made recommendations on what future studies should look like.

But her study has been sharply criticized by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Atlantic Richfield Co. ARCO called the study “fundamentally flawed” and offered a lengthy rebuttal. The company has also praised EPA’s cleanup of Butte and said it’s effective at protecting human health.

The health department is moving ahead with a study. Hocking said besides the health effects related to the Superfund site in Butte, they’ll aim for a comprehensive study looking at all factors.

“Some of these issues will be related to Superfund and the past mining, some of these won’t,” she said.

Mary Kay Craig, a Butte resident who attended one of the meetings, stressed the need to hire an autonomous researcher.

“Any studies that are done about the Superfund and Superfund-related activities must be independent of the entities involved so that they cannot change the results,” she said. “The studies they did in the 1990s, I’d say were a joke — they did not give us a health assessment.”

Several people said studies that look at the health effects from mining must branch beyond the three heavy metals of lead, mercury and arsenic. They said Butte has also been contaminated with zinc, copper, cadmium and other metals. And a study must look at the effects of combining different toxins.

Laura Repola, a Butte naturopathic doctor, said the studies need to be carefully tailored to show how the combination of all the metals is affecting people’s health.

“What you get into heavy metal toxicity, the variables are so great it would be hard to show causation,” she said. “Those studies will be difficult to design, but not impossible.”

And John Ray, chair of the Citizens Technical Environmental Committee, said the studies should come up with solutions.

“The goals of the study should have an action emphasis,” he said.

People brought up the problem of dust from the Montana Resources open pit mine drifting into the neighborhood just south of the operation, on Butte’s East Side. They said even after attic clean ups, the dust returns and they’d like to know if it contains toxins.

Among them is Steve McGrath, who brought a small bag showing the dust that’s collected at his house in the neighborhood near the old Greeley School.

“That part of town is continually being inundated by fine particles, day and night,” McGrath said. “Is that a nuisance or a threat to health issue?”

Hocking said they will gather all the comments for use in designing a study. Email comments to

In addition, Dr. Michelle Watters with the federal Centers for Disease Control will be in Butte to address the comments 7 p.m. Thursday, May 31 at the Butte Archives, 17 W. Quartz St.

— Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at

(10) Comments

  1. Outraw
    Report Abuse
    Outraw - May 25, 2012 7:49 pm
    Butte's a tough town. It's always has been that way, in more ways than one, and always will be. If you were born or even raised in Butte, your Dad was tough and yer Grandpa was probably tougher. I would bet that Butte has one of the highest trans-generational recitivism rates in the state, per capita. Why? Because great people live here and it's a great place to live. It's not for everyone. You have to have survival qualities and be a generally decent person. Could be why the jburtons of the world left early.
  2. yetty
    Report Abuse
    yetty - May 24, 2012 7:41 pm
    Ecorover guy,shoot I cant remember what other state you came from,Wisconsin,or Michagan..really don't care.Get a hair cut and go back,there is not any hidden dangers there,,,at least keep telling yourself that.
  3. GlenHorn50
    Report Abuse
    GlenHorn50 - May 24, 2012 7:36 am
    Some one posting here said something or other to do with the big Pic . All of the work in addressing pollution /cleanup is more of a stab at just being a form of "Busy Work". This busy work is in Fear of some Legal actions unknown in the future and a somewhat semi welcome way of giving those now living an avenue to toil away energy and hostility for whats happened to human life here and now and somewhat for the past. The True big Pic is that this Hole in the ground and all the People around here who produced what it has provided, are and have always been considered..... well,, kinda Expendable. The precious metals and Bulk of money went away to provide for comfort all over the world for Other humankind. The Golden Human export here, was and continues to be The Educated... ( Mt Tech ) grads who take their knowledge and our exportable valued human intellectual wealth, to seed fields of prosperity elsewhere, in a world primarily unpolluted compared to the wellspring (Butte) which produced her abundance in a Trade off in human life. Truly to fully understand where this history of work and its human cost of the past and its threat to the future, extensive testing would have to be logically plotted out and begun. Testing of those people who spent their whole life in this Environment would include aged in the rest homes. Those deceased resting in her cemetery's and those living in and around her current working conditions. A BIG PIC then could perhaps clear up where and if there is a true need to further address issues of Future Risk to health ,safety and well being of those living and continuing to do so as well as those to Come. Overall in respect to those now Living and passing after 60 70 80 plus years ,she can't be too bad round Here Pard !
  4. EcoRover
    Report Abuse
    EcoRover - May 21, 2012 7:44 pm
    For more than a hundred years, the ACM (and now Arco, an perhaps MR?) answer to every complaint about pollution problems was, "It's not a problem. And if you complain, it's bad for business!"
    But there are problems. And you can't just sweep them under a rug and expect them to go away. Follow the evidence: if it says there are mine waste health risks in Butte, then let's figure out the cause and clean it up.
    What you cannot see CAN hurt you. And some ongoing problems we CAN see--such as the new homes being built in the heavily contaminated Westside Soils Superfund area. Or the toxic dust in the attics and walls of many older homes.
  5. yetty
    Report Abuse
    yetty - May 21, 2012 7:31 pm
    What?Where is this mine located in Butte????Comeon people you don't like it ....move to bozeman and you'll fit right in.Mother of God they call it the mining city for a reason,deal with it.That mine is what keeps this wonderful little hole running.
  6. lookatbigpic
    Report Abuse
    lookatbigpic - May 21, 2012 12:37 pm
    They've tried to provide lots of excuses why they can't remove the Parrot Tailings, for one thing. You can't drink our water - because of the ground-water contamination - do we want complete destruction of our environment, too?
  7. lookatbigpic
    Report Abuse
    lookatbigpic - May 21, 2012 12:37 pm
    Everyone is grateful for the industry, which supplied jobs. But, there was a lot of environmental (health) damage also done. Can't EPA make sure that the pollutants are cleaned up, instead of siding with the big corporation?
  8. peace4ever
    Report Abuse
    peace4ever - May 21, 2012 8:16 am
    Why cannot we have both mining and health? The two comments here sound like we must choose mining over health and that the mere talk of health causes threat of close down of mining. Must we suffer for another couple of decades through a "health study" to determine whether we are REALLY many times tougher than other humans living in copper smelting pollution zones? We don't really get sick with 10 to 20 times the pollution level than other clean-up areas? Butte tough is real, but this is nonsense.
  9. crcologuy
    Report Abuse
    crcologuy - May 20, 2012 4:00 pm
    maybe these people would be happier if the mine shutdown like the others and turn it into a park, uptown Butte doesn't have enough empty buildings? or parking lots, let them destroy more jobs, that would really bring Butte back to it's glory days.
  10. GlenHorn50
    Report Abuse
    GlenHorn50 - May 20, 2012 8:30 am
    people , people , Listen up children......Let me tell you a TRUE STORY of a goose who lays GOLDEN EGGS .. and a dance around the chopping block involving a neck and meat cleaver...........careful careful...........
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